Becoming Operationally Efficient Before Scaling: My Farber Fellow Journey with Challenge Program Furniture – Shahryar Nayyer, The Wharton School

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I have always been driven by a profound desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others, and my goal in business school was to do so professionally. As an MBA student at Wharton, this passion for service and the pursuit of a purpose-driven career led me to explore opportunities that bridge entrepreneurship and social impact. It was during this search that I discovered the Farber Fellowship Program at REDF and its Growth Portfolio, a platform uniquely tailored to my aspirations of combining business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit with meaningful change.

This distinctive blend provides an avenue to create real change while harnessing the power of business strategies. As someone who believes in the potential of social enterprises to achieve greater impact for more people, this program offered an exciting opportunity to learn how this innovative model can transform lives and communities.

My Farber Fellow journey led me to Challenge Program Furniture (CPF), a Wilmington-based social enterprise that employs local opportunity youth in a furniture manufacturing shop. Apprentices learn meaningful craftsperson skills before moving on to permanent employment opportunities. CPF’s model of nurturing talent and offering apprenticeships aligned perfectly with my commitment to fostering inclusive economies through skills development.

I joined CPF at a pivotal point in their journey as they were making the shift from a specialized manufacturer to a standardized producer, which would allow them to benefit from operational efficiencies. Additionally, CPF will be moving to a facility almost three times their current size, and their goal was to bring about a cultural and operational change that would instill values of efficiency in their way of working. Some key questions we tried to answer included: What should the optimum process flow be in the new shop? How should equipment be laid out? Should tools and resources be communal, or personal? How can we make better equipment investment decisions?

As I dove deeper into the problem-solving process, I realized that developing a structured framework to answer each question would ensure that CPF could continue to utilize these ideas moving forward. For example, when deciding which of the tools should be shared versus personal, I conducted a survey engaging both the mechanics and apprentices to learn about their tool utilization and get a sense of tool criticality for each worker. Then, I segmented their answers into certain role archetypes and used a scoring approach for each tool to determine whether that tool should be shared or personal. CPF’s close collaboration throughout this process was key to finding solutions effectively.

Engaging with CPF and collaborating on operational challenges revealed the true essence of partnership. Weekly calls with REDF’s network, employment social enterprise leaders, and fellow Farber Fellows created a vibrant community of mission-driven individuals. These interactions underscored the potential of blending conventional business goals with social impact initiatives to bring about holistic change. Amid the invigorating conversations, there was also room for camaraderie, with moments of shared laughter and memorable virtual game sessions.

My recommendations will help CPF become more efficient operationally as it begins to scale its operations and transition into the next phase of its impressive growth journey. The relationships I formed during this journey and the insights I gained are invaluable treasures that will influence my path beyond this program. In my pursuit of a meaningful, purpose-driven career, the Farber Fellowship Program has been a guiding light. As I continue my journey, I am excited to use my experience to help improve the world and contribute to the creation of a more inclusive society.

Construction is underway of CP Furniture’s new facility